- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

BALTIMORE — The leading voice among the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate was named Tuesday as the 16th archbishop of Baltimore, the nation’s first diocese.

Bishop William E. Lori, 60, comes from the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., and has testified before Congress several times in the past few months on a proposed measure to make religious employers pay for contraception for their employees, which the Catholic Church and other religious groups have called an assault on religious liberty.

The White House has said it would modify the rule to require that insurers pay for contraception rather than employers, though it has yet to formally do so. Regardless, many critics have called the proposal pointless for religious employers who self-insure and an accounting gimmick for those who don’t.

In February, Bishop Lori drew an extended analogy between the mandate to cover contraception and a hypothetical mandate forcing all restaurants nationwide to serve pork, calling each a violation of religious freedom and saying it is “absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich.”

When asked whether the Vatican was trying to move him closer to Washington, Bishop Lori joked about his frequent appearances before Congress.

“Yes, the Vatican decided that I was spending entirely too much time on the US Airways shuttle,” he said. “So, they moved me to Baltimore so I’m a train ride away.”

He said that he didn’t know what went into the decision but he was humbled by “the very thought of teaching the faith, promoting and defending religious liberty and serving the common good of society from a chair once held by Archbishop Carroll.”

John Carroll is considered a founder of the Catholic Church in the U.S. and was the first bishop and archbishop of the Baltimore diocese, established in 1789. The Archdiocese of Baltimore serves 510,000 Catholics in Baltimore and nine counties in central and western Maryland. As the first U.S. diocese, it’s considered a prominent post. Four of its archbishops have gone on to become cardinals.

Bishop Lori was born in Louisville, Ky., and ordained in 1977. He became a bishop in 1995 and has served as bishop of Bridgeport since 2001. He oversaw a diocese that includes more than 460,000 Catholics.

Bishop Lori also indicated Tuesday that he would be active in Annapolis, where Maryland lawmakers recently passed a gay-marriage bill that is facing a referendum challenge. The bill was promoted by Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is Catholic.

The post means Bishop Lori will also head the Maryland Catholic Conference, he noted, adding that as a student of American history it has been “hard to miss that there’s been an erosion of religious liberty over time.”

“I think it’s important for us to be there, not only looking after the interests of the church, but also the church comes to this as a provider for the common good,” he said, noting that in almost every locality the church is the largest provider of social services after the government.

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